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ANN ARBOR - If the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry needed a spark, one was provided by Irish coach Charlie Weis months ago.
Speaking to Notre Dame boosters, players and others at a brunch the day of the Blue-Gold spring game on April 19, Weis mentioned this Saturday's Wolverines-Irish showdown by saying: "We'll listen to Michigan have all their excuses as they come running in saying how they have a new coaching staff and there [are] changes."
And then Weis, whose comments predictably found their way onto YouTube, followed with: "To hell with Michigan."
Think that one got any Wolverines' attention?
"[Mike] Barwis was mad," said UM defensive end Tim Jamison of the team's fiery strength coach yesterday.
Weis' remarks were a subject of conversation between the Wolverines' players and training staff and were posted on the UM training room's walls this summer.
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"I was like, 'They talkin' about Michigan already?' " Jamison remembered.
Jamison said Barwis, who's known not only for his grueling conditioning program but also for his motivational tactics, and other UM coaches didn't allow the players to focus on Weis' rhetoric for long. There were two games to be played before the Wolverines' trip to South Bend, Ind.
But after a season-opening loss to Utah and an ugly but important victory over Miami (Ohio), UM finally gets to play one of its three big rivals this weekend in its first road game of 2008.
The Wolverines own a 20-14-1 advantage in this series between college football's two winningest programs, but the rivalry has been one-sided the last two seasons. UM blasted the Irish in 2006 and 2007 by a combined score of 85-21, including a 38-0 shellacking at the Big House last year.
Yet, it's the Wolverines who have bulletin board material to get them motivated.
"It's game week now, so Saturday we'll see," Jamison said.
"Whatever," cornerback Morgan Trent added.
And will Rodriguez make sure "to hell with Michigan" reappears in UM's locker room and training facilities this week?
"It might," Rodriguez said. "Let y'all have a little fun with that."
Trent, who said UM's 47-21 spanking of Brady Quinn and the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium in 2006 is "one of the greatest memories I have," said this rivalry is different than the ones the Wolverines have with Ohio State and Michigan State.
"It's just a different feeling," Trent said. "I don't want to go too far into it without saying anything I shouldn't."
You mean, like, well, you know .
"That's why you've got to watch what you say," Jamison said. "The other team can use that as motivation."
NO HUDDLE: Rodriguez said starting left tackle Mark Ortmann suffered a dislocated right elbow against Miami and would be out against the Irish. Sophomore Perry Dorrestein could start in Ortmann's place, but sophomore Bryant Nowicki (who filled in at left tackle last week) and freshman Patrick Omameh will also work there. Ortmann could be back for UM's game against Wisconsin Sept. 27, following the Wolverines' bye week. Rodriguez said Steven Threet will probably make his second consecutive start at quarterback this week with Nick Sheridan following in relief. The coach again pleaded for one quarterback to play so well that the other stays on the sideline. Threet ran for a touchdown but struggled to hit open receivers downfield last week, while Sheridan played but was not asked to throw anything other than screens and dump-offs. Receiver Greg Mathews (ankle), running back Michael Shaw (groin), and running back Carlos Brown (shoulder) are all expected to be available this week. Rodriguez said Whitmer High graduate and freshman tight end Kevin Koger still has a chance to play this year despite not seeing action thus far. Dual-threat freshman quarterback Justin Feagin has been working at quarterback and slot receiver in practice, Rodriguez said. Feagin is slated to redshirt this year.
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